“Do I miss it? I dunno, man, maybe. I feel like everything before the sleep was a lie, and now I’ve woken up, in more ways than one. But being awake is scary.”
The Survivors is a clever viral outbreak story that takes a unique, layered point of view on survival of the fittest. On the surface there’s a straightforward tale of post-apocalyptic existence at play, but there is also a lot between the lines about transhumanism, genetic modification, living rather than just being alive, fear motivating division motivating hatred, etc. It’s a great story, and the novelette form is the perfect length for it to unfold in.
Personally, the thing I love about short fiction is that when the word count is only so long, instead of filling in every last detail, writers have the freedom to tell a smaller, more human story, while hinting toward the greater fictional universe. This lets the reader’s imagination fill in the gaps and personalize their experience, effectively meeting the text halfway. I think this serves to kickstart our sense of wonder, which is the root of speculative fiction, and why short fiction has always been SF’s bread and butter. It’s that “What if…” that gets the ball rolling, and helps us to imagine. In The Survivors, the main “what if” questions are: What if the infected were the survivors, while still representing a mortal danger to the uninfected? What if it were preferable to be infected? What if there were desirable side effects? This novelette is a jumping off point for those kinds of questions.
Part of the fun of post apocalypse stories, is the fantasy that everything could change in an instant. All of the daily drags, work, responsibilities, etc could evaporate and you could live a more exciting, adventurous life full of danger and genuine struggle. I think that a lot of us are so removed from the reality of living to survive, that we almost crave it. For most of us in the western world, what we call work barely resembles anything physically demanding. We sit in front of screens, and move pixels around, which somehow corresponds to a paycheck, but it’s all virtual; we aren’t really doing anything. I think this can sometimes leave us rather unfulfilled physiologically, psychologically, and emotionally. In turn, we crave some adventure, or maybe just something more “real”, something that ties into our mammalian core, and what’s more real than the struggle to survive? This is probably why we go camping, or hiking, why we ride motorcycles, or partake in other risky activities. It’s also most likely why we tend to love apocalyptic fiction in all its varieties. It’s a thrill to read.
Something else I want to touch on is the absolutely gorgeous graphic design both outside and inside this book. Each chapter heading has a visual progression that changes as you get closer to the conclusion. Little details like this really make a physical copy a worthwhile thing in an age of easy digital books.
Farmer first came to my attention through his work as the creator of the Belter conlang for The Expanse TV series. If you’re not familiar with Belter, it’s a creole language created specifically for the Syfy adaptation of the book series by James S.A. Corey. It has a surprisingly rich history built into every word and phrase. He has been very active in the online community of fans who latched onto Belter, often answering questions, adding to the Belter lexicon, and correcting usage from his twitter account. There was obviously a remarkable amount of thought and creativity that went into the creation of Belter, and I’d suggest looking into some of the podcasts and videos featuring Nick explaining the process. It’s fascinating stuff.
When I heard that he was writing fiction, I had high hopes that his output would be as good as his conlang creation. So I’m very glad to see that Farmer is not only gifted as a linguist, but is also showing quite a bit of talent and promise as a writer. His prose is clean and straightforward, the pacing smooth, and it’s a well structured story. I’ll definitely be picking up his future writing.
The world has changed. So have the Survivors.
When Daniel wakes up from a disease he never knew he had, he finds a nearly empty New York City, inhabited by a small number of people, who, like him, were infected, yet lived. They are biologically immortal, yet as carriers of the deadliest pathogen in human history, they are feared and reviled by their uninfected neighbors. Under constant threat of attack, Daniel and this new community are looking for answers about what happened, and why.